Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Des enfants gâtés

Might as well write a little update while I have Internet! My modem has been pushing me closer and closer to insanity for the last four or five days. It works, it doesn't work, it works, it pretends to work, you bring up your home page, it stops working, then starts again, only for a minute, though, but enough for you to think that it's going to work after all..and then it stops working. Again. I almost threw it at one point last night, but then thought that probably would make the whole problem much worse. Calling Freebox would mean at least a few weeks of waiting for an overpriced technician to come to my apartment only to tell me he doesn't have the part needed. I've got you figured out, France! So I gently set the modem down and tried again and again. Since my TV, Internet and phone are all connected, not having any form of communication had me (could be has at any moment..) going crazy. I can only read so many books, listen to so many Advanced Spanish CDs (I did an entire course this weekend out of boredom) and clean so much before I want to just chill out and browse my favorite time-wasting sites. Don't judge, it's been cold outside..

So, now I'm on "vacation" again, but the only good thing about this week is that I don't have to wake up at 6am. I'm still watching the two boys during the day, and good God my patience is disappearing quickly. Yesterday, the older boy decided it would be fun to hide under the couch cushions for 45 minutes while his brother and I desperately searched for him. We looked everywhere. Upstairs, downstairs, in closets, under blankets--everywhere. I called his friends looking for him, offered candy if he came out, threatened death, etc. Nothing. (I should mention that we weren't even playing hide-and-seek--he just decided to hide for kicks. FUN!) I gotta give him props for his silent dedication, but I was literally dialing his mother's cellphone number to tell her I had lost her son when I saw the cat sniffing the couch and realized that his "super bonne cachette" was right in front of my eyes. He was squeezed in the little space between the back of the couch and the cushions. And he thought it was funny. Hilarious. I was not amused, not at all. I told his dad, and he was quick to brush it off and say "No, he must've just thought it was a game. He didn't know you weren't joking." Riiiiight. That's what it was. A 45-minute game. Because my yelling, running up and down the stairs, looking down from the terrace to the ground (part of me half hoping he'd be laying on the ground below with a broken leg) and frantic behavior was a GAME! That's it!

I seriously considered quitting today. These kids are spoiled and impolite and NEVER NEVER NEVER OBEY. I went off on them today, yelling out all kinds of mean things in English, telling them how they were the worst children I'd ever met, and so spoiled, etc. They get whatever they want, and just do not know how to cope when something doesn't go their way! Especially the older boy, who will be 11 in a few months. I'm surprised he's not still in diapers and doesn't suck his thumb at night. He cries all the time, as in real sobbing tears; stops in the middle of the street to sulk, throws a fit when he doesn't get what he wants--apparently I signed up to watch a toddler! I almost want to suggest to his parents that he go and get a hearing test because it seems like everything I say falls on deaf ears. When someone asks you a question, to your face, and uses your first name, in an interrogative tone, don't you usually respond? Guess this doesn't apply to him. Yet he's smart. He loves to play chess, is very creative, and when he's not being a big brat, can be sincere and somewhat nice. ("Nice" being a very loose term.) If he put half the time he spends making my life hell towards learning English, he'd be able to have a real conversation with me. But, as it stands, the younger boy--who just turned 7--can say more in English than his older brother. He at least tries, whereas the older one flat out refuses to say anything in English unless I bribe him with being able to play the Wii longer than he's generally allowed. Candy does nothing for these boys as bribes because hello! Spoiled kids always have candy and cake in the house!

And to top it all off, the father is a total creeper. Ugh. I'm in Paris, I'm in Paris, I'm in Paris..I remind myself of this often. I have a lot to be grateful for, I know. But unless I'm offered a ridiculous amount of money, I do not ever want to watch kids again after this year until I have my own years from now. I'm done. (I'm pretty sure I said this a few years ago, too..)

Moving on..can't wait 'til this weekend. Week two of my vacation, completely child free. I'm headed to Germany, as I mentioned before. No big plans, probably just hanging out with my friends, taking some scenic walks, soaking up some German, spending a significant amount of time in bookstores and cafés.

A few pictures from this weekend. I had a lot of time on my hands! I found this little gem of a park on a random street. That's what I love about Paris: Just when I think I know a neighborhood fairly well, I come across little tucked-away treasures.
Makes me think of Notting Hill
Afternoon stroll
"The time to read" ...if only I had more of it!
Birth control.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Why can't America do this? It makes so much more sense to have refills of hand soap in little plastic sacs like this. You can squeeze every drop out, and you're not wasting another big plastic bottle (or new dispenser). Sometimes, the French are très malins..

Two more days..

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dreaming of grasses matinées..

Oh, Friday, please come, soon. Vacation time. Of course, I won't really be on vacation for the first week because I have to watch the kids so the father can play billiards all day do important things, but at least I'll have more free time and won't have to get up at 6am! Hallelujah! I am soooo not a morning person. You know when people tell you "Oh getting up early isn't so bad after awhile, you'll get used to it!"? They're lying. It's actually the opposite: it gets worse with each passing day of the week, only relieved by weekend sleep-ins and copious amounts of coffee. I hate getting up early, and I am definitely still not used to it. I haven't been an early riser since I was 8 years old and even then, it was probably to steal cookies and watch Ren & Stimpy before my brother got up. I look at my clock at 6am everyday and want to punch someone in the face. I set at least five alarms a day on my iPhone plus an annoying radio alarm on my real clock that plays loud, awful French rock music. And I still have trouble rolling out of bed at 6:20. Or 6:25. And then I wonder why I'm running late nearly an hour later, straightening the front of my hair (screw the back, I'm f-ing late) as I throw on my coat and hope that I packed everything in my schoolbag the night before. Damnit, I'm in middle school again.

I renewed my contract today for next year. It's not for sure, really--I can still change my mind. It was due today, and I thought, well, better to do it now and back out later than to not do it and not have a backup plan. I'm not sure what I want to do. A huge part of me wants to stay here, but I also would love to be out of debt and have a little cash to sit on and go to grad school with. I'm strongly considering coming back stateside and working for a year before heading back to uni. Which could be anywhere, really. I love France, and especially Paris, but at this point, it is synonymous with having hardly any money. I hate having bills at home that eat up my already measly pay here, and even though I don't starve, and I can travel a little bit, I'm not paying anything off (like, say, student loans) or saving anything. It just breaks my heart, though, thinking that this could be the last time for a while that I live here. Part of me thinks that the near-poverty is worth it, considering how much I love the city. And then I think about the stores that are open past 9pm in the US and it's decided! (haha) Guess I'll have to do some serious thinking over my break.

Speaking of which, I'm headed back to Germany for a few days. I do intend on going somewhere else, really! But I've got a free place to stay and my ticket is already bought, so for now, it looks like it will be a pretty affordable trip. Staying with two German friends that studied at MWSU last year, about an hour north of Nuremberg. Might make a little séjour to Prague, if time and my bank account allow it.

Nothing much new to report. It's freezing here, and has snowed a lot this year--for Paris. Obviously nothing to even talk about compared to what the Midwest has had this year, but cold is cold. I have my toasty scarf that I wrap around my neck three times, bury my face in, and brave the freezing temps with. Could it be...that I left the Midwest to find myself in the Midwest again? Minus the eight feet of snow, plus the annoying French busses that have a hissy fit when there's 2 inches of snow on the ground that's melting faster than it's falling down. SERIOUSLY.

Well, perhaps part of my getting up early troubles has to do something with the fact that I cannot, for the life of me, go to bed before midnight. It's 23:50 and I'm out. Leaving you with a few pics from some walks I've recently taken when the temperatures weren't cold enough to make my fingers fall off!
Also, some plugs:
I read Julia Child's My Life in France and loved it. Even if you aren't a big Francophile, it's a great read. She had a really interesting life. I'm sort of envious.

If you're looking for a good film, rent Adam. It's about a guy with Asperger's who falls in love..it's really sweet. And the soundtrack is great, too.

Friday, February 5, 2010

On Learning French

I've been learning French for a while. If we get down to numbers, it's going on more than decade, although I'm not sure if high school French counts. I love learning languages; I've come to believe that it's my "thing." But despite my late-night reading of German grammar books, my train ride podcasts in Spanish and my overflowing bookshelves (mostly made up of language books), it always comes back to French. It is my base language. I know that sounds weird--obviously, English is the language I feel the most fluent in. But I never learned English. Sometimes, I don't know why it's like that. Even though I have a degree in Journalism, sometimes, it's just..English, you know? It's like that because it is. I don't always have an explanation.

French, however, is different. I know exactly why it is that way. Seven months in an obscure village in the French Alps tends to leave you with a fair amount of time to study. I can tell you, for example, that when you use a quantity and the preposition de, you don't blend it with the gender of the following noun. Okay, that makes no sense. Look:
J'ai des (de+les=des) livres. I have some books.
J'ai beaucoup de livres. I have a lot of books. We don't say XX J'ai beaucoup des livres. No worky. "A lot" is measuring something, i.e. a quantity, which necessitates de.
And I could tell you that even though we say "A child obeys his mother" in English, in French, it's "A child obeys to his mother." Which means it's an indirect object. Which, in French, changes the pronoun from le to lui. And I knoooooow this is way not interesting to most people. But see, I love this. I love knowing why.

And so that brings me back to my point that French is my base (foreign) language. It helps me learn other languages. I can say, hey, it's like this in French, too. Or, hey, it's not exactly like this in French, but close enough that I understand. Strangely enough, knowing French grammar has helped immensely with learning the difficult German declension system. If my rough language ambitions that I've made (i.e., speaking with relative fluency 3 foreign languages before I'm 26) don't work out, I'll at least have one language I'm very fluent in: French. Sufficient Spanish and German to follow.

I take notes. Lots of notes. (Notice how I've adopted the French grid paper and underlining with a ruler! The French are serious about good note taking. Although I'm sure my print would immediately be tsk-tsked. Cursive is the only acceptable method of writing.)
at the bottom: un étron--a turd. Of COURSE I randomly chose a page to photograph that had TURD scribbled on it.

There's a 30-page document on my computer called "French Notes." And then another version on my iPhone called--wait for it--"Mobile French Notes." And then there's the post-it notes. Everywhere. My French family gave me a noteblock for Christmas, and although it's touristy--Paris and an Eiffel Tower on the side and all--it's probably been the most useful gift I've received in a while. I am an avid list-maker, and when watching TV, reading a book, or basically just living in France and listening--I write down any words I don't know. Always. The teachers I work with make fun of me for it because I sometimes ask them how something is spelled--something obscure they mentioned five minutes before. "You mean..you're taking notes of my conversations?" Yes, yes I am.

So, has all this studious work paid off since my arrival in September? I'd like to think so. I learned a lot of French in that first 18 months I lived here a few years ago. The first year is the hardest. It's said that about 2,000 words is enough to make you fluent on a day-to-day basis, and so I spent that time learning the words I came across the most often, plus some. I immersed myself in French culture, trying to read books only in French (couldn't resist a few English ones), talking only in French (except to the kids), and writing down as many words as I could. It paid off; I left France with an exponentially larger vocabulary than what I came in with. Suffice to say, my last two years of French classes at university were much, much easier.

Fast forward to September of last year--Paris, continued. I'd already learned a lot of the words that we use on a daily basis and pretty much had the grammar down pat. Since then, I've just been learning vocabulary. You're not supposed to do it my way--write down every single word. I know. So somedays, I don't let myself do it. I tell myself, if it's important, I'll see the word again. Then you can write it down. This especially helps when I'm lazy. Most days, though, I figure that a quick little note on my iPhone won't hurt me. Even if I don't know the meaning, I just write the word down.

www.wordreference.com is my best friend, especially the forums, where native speakers help to pin down the exact meaning of words and expressions. I try to go through my lists every few weeks to tie loose ends--words and/or expressions I didn't get clear definitions from solely from context--and I neatly write them in my notebook (see above), where they are officially part of my newly-acquired French. It's not like I remember every single word I write down. No way. I'm not that good. But if I see it again, I'll probably recognize it. Using it--that is, making it a part of my active vocabulary (vs. passive) is much more challenging.

I recently bought a new dictionary, and I'm in love:
I love dictionaries. Honestly, the very first thing that sells me is font. I know there are good dictionaries out there with ugly font, but I'm sorry, if I'm going to be roaming your pages on a daily basis, I need readable, preferably sans-serif, color-coded font. And voilà my new baby:
It's used and has creases on the front cover, and it dates to 2003. I don't care. It's got all kinds of useful info, synonyms, side notes, etc. It's a French-French dictionary, so I don't get the word in English, but the definitions, I find, are much more precise because let's admit it: the French love their own language a whole lot.

As a last final note, I will say that living here for nearly six months has changed my train of thought. People always ask if I think in French. I would say yes and no. When I'm speaking French, I certainly don't translate from English to French. I just..speak. I don't usually have to search for words, but now and then, if I'm looking for a specific term--say, food poisoning--I'll have to explain what it is and get the correct answer. (And in case you're wondering, it's not poison de la nourriture--no, no, that is way too Germanic-sounding. It's intoxication alimentaire--"alimentary intoxication.") If I happen to say something English-y in French,I'm understood, but it's not correct. I'm always looking for the correct, everyday term.
Other little things:
- I see numbers and think of them in French. This depends on if I've been speaking English all day, but usually, I'll see a 60km sign and think soixante before sixty.
-I hear accents in French. I can immediately hear a German, British, or Spanish accent when they're speaking French. Especially British. French doesn't cover up their accent!
-I find myself more and more saying things in English, but in a French way. For instance, "intéressant" (interesting) has the English meaning, and also a meaning of "profitable, helpful, attractive." An "interesting price" isn't so much "ahh, that is so thought-provoking and makes me think!" but more of "oh, it's a good deal, it's a profit to me." There are many of these little nuances that I accidentally drop into conversations in English.
-I have begun to forget words in English. I usually just have to prime my brain for a few seconds to get the English word, but more than once, I've had to look up the French word to get back my maternal language. Weird.
-I have gotten to the point where I can say "that doesn't sound right" in French. I'm not an expert, I know. I run across expats that have truly mastered the language (and those that haven't, might I add!) and humble me. But for the most part, I can say, hey, isn't it like this?
-I dream in French and English. More English, but often the dreams are bilingual, even in the same sentence.

As for me, I get complimented on my French fairly often. Without sounding like a braggart, I can say that I think I have a fairly good accent. I am a very, very good listener. I often come home and practice saying words. I take phonetic notes when I can, and use arrows to indicate falling and rising tones. This alone makes me think that linguistics should be my chosen field of study. Yesterday, a substitute teacher was talking to me for 20 minutes before he asked me where I was from. I told him America and he was dumbfounded! "Really?" he said, "You're American? I can usually hear accents, but you have a really faint accent. I can tell you're foreign but I wouldn't have guessed the US." And then he went on to ask how long I had been here, and was very surprised that I spoke "that well" for only having been here for around two years in all. (Me=beaming)

All in all, I'm sometimes surprised at how much French is saved up in my brain. I'm thrilled about many new words I've learned just since being here this year. I know that if I were at a job or in class where I spoke French all day long, I'd be even better. Which is why I make such a point to learn French when I'm around it--in the teacher's lounge, on the train, etc. At this point, it's more just fine-tuning and learning the correct pronunciation and context. And I love learning familiar phrases that the French themselves use with friends. The learning never stops. There will never be a point where I know all the words in French. Not possible. Day-to-day life, though? I think I get along pretty well.